The Future of Wolves in Washington: Will they ever be just another critter in the woods?

[Article by contributing writer Melissa Grant,wildlife/outdoor enthusiast and pet trainer/owner of Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs]

Out here in the Snoqualmie Valley we fancy ourselves as outdoor wildlife savvy people. We chuckle when we hear of hikers being afraid of animals on the trail. We’ve even been known to openly scoff at those who come unprepared for close encounters of the wild kind. We know how to handle ourselves when it comes to bears, coyotes or even cougars!

In 2015 a lone wolf was killed on I-90 and people thought its presence was a fluke. Well, another was seen on camera on the North Fork in 2018. So, valley residents, are you ready for wolves in the Snoqualmie Valley? 

Last week the statewide wolf specialist, Benjamin Maletzke, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was the guest speaker at the monthly Upper Valley Elk Management Groups meeting.  He was there to tell us about the Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2018 annual report.

Like the previous year the plan’s objective are to:

  • Restore self-sustaining wolf populations 
  • Maintain healthy ungulate populations 
  • Manage wolf-livestock conflicts 
  • Develop public understanding and promote co-existence 

But while the plan’s objectives remain the same, some of the wolf numbers have changed. Last year there were at least 122 wolves in the state, making up 22 packs with 16 breeding pairs. This year Washington was home to at least 126 wolves, 27 packs and 15 successful breeding pair. (This is a minimum count, so the number in Washington is likely higher).

This year four wolves were lethally removed for wolf-caused livestock deaths. In 2017 three were removed for the same offense. According to the report, the WDFW spent $1,217,326 on wolf management activities during the 2018 fiscal year, compared to $1,272,314 last year.

Six new packs formed – one very close to the Teanaway Pack, the closest one to the Snoqualmie Valley; one pack disbanded; and the first wolf pack of the modern era was confirmed in Western Washington. In 2017 a lone wolf was found and collared in Skagit county. In 2018 the same wolf was found to be traveling with another wolf (a pack is two individuals traveling together) and the Diobsub Creek pack was born, named for the area in which they spend their time.

Some of this new information got me asking Ben questions about the likelihood that someday we might have wolves in the Snoqualmie Valley. His reply was unsurprising to me, but might surprise others:

It is possible. Just outside of the residential development in the valley is a large expanse of managed forest, state and federal lands with deer and elk.  I don’t know exactly where we might see wolves settle in the future, but I think that wildland is a possible area”

The Valley is a large area. The school district counts the valley as being from Ames Lake to the Pass, 400 sq. miles. So, how many wolves would live here with us? 25? 50? I couldn’t ask him to definitively predict the future, but asked him to opine based on the space, average pack and territory size. Said Maletzke,

If wolves settled there, they would be in packs that occupy around 300 – 350 sq. miles.  The packs don’t overlap in their use of space and the average pack size in Washington is around 4 wolves/pack.”

 Oh, ok so using my rudimentary math skills, I can see the number would be much less than 50 and probably closer to 4.

During the meeting someone asked about an incident in June in which a Forest Service worker doing a research survey was treed by a pack of wolves and was rescued by a DNR helicopter.

At the time the coverage was sparse, but basically told a tale of a woman who happened upon a wolf rendezvous site (home or activity sites where weaned pups are brought from the den until they are old enough to join adult wolves in hunting activity), felt unsafe when she heard the wolves, tried to scare them off with bear spray and then climbed the tree to escape.

Maletzke said the woman heard the wolves barking at her when she first went into the area, but didn’t know that was their way of telling her to go away. When asked if it was fair to say that she went in with good intentions and good tools, but maybe not complete information on what to look for, how to behave etc.? He replied:

I think your interpretation is correct.  Similar to domestic dogs or horses, animals have warning signs that can tell you if you are in their space (pinning ears, baring teeth, barking, or growling.) In this instance the woman happened to be working near a rendezvous site where the pups were. The wolves wanted her to leave so they barked at her. Instead of leaving, she climbed a tree to feel safe and called for assistance. If a similar occurrence happened it would be best to just hike out of the area.”

Trust me, I am not one to throw stones. While I would hope I’d do the right thing given the same circumstances, I have yet to confront a pack of wolves, which led me to my next question. Is this the only human/wolf encounter of its kind you know of in the state in recent years? The answer to that was thankfully: “Yes, that I know of.”

He gave out some great pamphlets at the meeting about Washington’s Wolves (you can get yours at http://westernwildlife.org/gray-wolf-outreach-project/) and to me it looked like the advice for a wolf encounter is basically the same as for a bear encounter. He agreed. So if you are lucky enough to see one of these creatures – or just hike in an area where they might be – the advice is to:

  • Stay calm and do not run
  • Stand tall and make yourself look larger
  • Slowly back away and maintain eye contact
  • Keep dogs on leash
  • Carry bear spray
  • Hike in groups

An encounter would be extraordinarily rare as wolves generally fear and avoid people. The risk to human safety is low. 

Wolf – part of the Naneum pack.

I do know another concern people have is the risk to our domesticated animals. What about dogs, cats and livestock? What can we do to keep them safe? For dogs he said to keep them on leash when hiking, always good advice. As far as livestock goes what doesn’t work is-

Leaving carcasses or bone piles in the back of the pasture, leaving garbage and food rewards out, not cleaning up afterbirth during a calving operation.  This stuff can lure carnivores in from a long way away. Sanitation can help avoid these interactions with carnivores.”

He suggested taking a look at their website here for more information on protecting livestock. 

I must admit I welcome the idea of wolves in the valley. So, I was pretty easy to convince they wouldn’t be a problem. I’ve done a fair bit of research and reading on wild carnivores in the past and am convinced they are not any more of a problem than our bears and cougars. In fact, I think they are an important part of a healthy ecosystem and would do our valley a world of good. If you are unconvinced or just curious you can read the wolf report with the link provided above or watch it on YouTube below.

Let us know if you agree with Ben that wolves are just another critter in the woods or believe they should never be allowed back in the area.

You can also contact Benjamin Maletzke, Statewide Wolf Specialist Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at benjamin.maletzke@dfw.wa.gov

There is an online reporting tool if you would like to report a wolf sighting or you can call 1-877-933-9847. 

Location of WA State Wolf packs

Comments

  1. Marian Hennings says

    I hope the wolves return to the Snoqualmie Valley and other parts of Washington which were part of their previous range.

  2. John Rasmussen says

    Bring the Wolves back to Western Washington. It was their land first. Ranchers need to be more responsible. People need to be aware that if you decide to live in Wild Country, you need to figure out how to co-exist. Don’t persecute the wolves just because you are afraid an uninformed. That is what happened in the first place when they were all killed out of fear. Thank you.

  3. Galen McElroy says

    One of my coworkers saw a lone wolf out north fork last week. I would have loved to have seen it.

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